Season 2 of Euphoria is like an overzealous student fashionista looking to make heads not just turn in its sophomore year, but spin around faster than Linda Blair in The Exorcist. This HBO high school drama is far from a horror film, but one can’t underestimate its ability to both overwhelm the senses and make one sit at the edge of their seat. Written and directed by Sam Levinson, Euphoria’s second season contains even more beautiful cinematography, even more needle drops, and even more nail-biting plot threads than its first year.
Back are the students of Eastland High and their lives are as chaotic as ever. Rue (Zendaya) continues to struggle with substance abuse and is put in the path of Laurie (Martha Kelly), a drug dealer with the demeanor of a soccer mom, but the presence of Hannibal Lector. As Rue suffers a relapse, her relationship with Jules (Hunter Schafer) is put on the rocks, which is even further exacerbated as the two each have a dynamic with a fellow student named Elliot (Dominic Fike) prompting a complicated friendship/love triangle.
Meanwhile, Cassie (Sydney Sweeney) begins a secret relationship with her best friend Maddy’s (Alexa Demie) ex-boyfriend Nate Jacobs (Jacob Elordi), which creates another love triangle that crescendos to a boiling point. Fez (Angus Cloud) deals with tragic repercussions as his younger brother Ashtray (Javon Walton) commits a murder on his behalf. And Lexi (Maude Apatow) creates a semi-autobiographical student play that’s riot-inducing, but almost literally.
If keeping track of all of these plot threads, love triangles, and character dynamics makes you want to take out some red string to keep track, don’t be alarmed. Euphoria is a lot, but each episode does a good job at flowing between the characters. However, this doesn’t mean that Levinson’s writing never fails to serve its characters. At the end of the first season, many fans were excited to see Kat (Barbie Ferreira) eventually pair up with her sweet classmate Ethan (Austin Abrams).
After watching this season they’d be shocked to find out both barely feature in it. Not only this, Kat breaks up with Ethan using the most bizarre excuse that’s so out of left field and feels out of character. As the two sit at diner she tries to get out of the relationship by telling him she has a terminal brain disorder. It’s hard to know if Levinson wanted this scene to come off as comedic, but the handling of Kat in this moment doesn’t jive with the writing the character was given in season one, almost to the point of seeming like character assassination.*
(*Kat’s reduction in screentime is likely due to a reported feud between Ferreira and Levinson.)
Though mishandling fan-favorite characters like Kat, Levinson doesn’t drop the ball with every character or storyline fans wanted to see more of in season two. In particular, Fez and Lexi get more screen time delving into their backgrounds and personalities. Rather than feeling forced, both characters slide into the Euphoria puzzle like a glove. Through flashbacks and plot we find out this season that Fez was brought into the drug-dealing lifestyle by his grandma at a young age and we explore why and how Lexi has felt like a passive bystander in her life, especially in comparison to her sister Cassie. Though complete polar opposites as far as lived experience, both characters possess a warm earnestness, brought out by Apatow and Cloud’s performances, that present a welcome life raft from the seesaw nature of the characters surrounding them.
Though this second season’s plot and writing can range from great to sometimes falling flat it can’t be denied that Euphoria’s visuals memorably pop. Straight from the jump of the eight-episode run, the show is still as stylish as ever. In the premiere, one sees Fez’s gun toting grandma wearing a rich blue suit bearing the phrase “God’s Word. God’s Will,” and in episode four, a Mexican mural-inspired montage of the characters sees Cassie’s tear stained face reflected in a mirror surrounded by beautiful flowers. Just as in the first season, Levinson and director of cinematography Marcell Rév have crafted evocative imagery that amplifies the mood of a scene and floors you in how well it’s constructed. The show’s look combined with the all-hits-no-misses soundtrack selection from music supervisor Jen Malone, which ranges from Billy Swan to Baby Keem, and goosebump causing score from Labrinth make for a show that is constantly and effectively stimulating your eyes and ears in a satisfying way.
A highlight of both direction and performance is the fifth episode, “Stand Still Like the Hummingbird.” Here, Rue experiences a seemingly never-ending downward spiral as she goes through withdrawal and is caught in Laurie’s crosshairs. Levinson orchestrates a narrative so tense one might as well put a whole tube of Mentos in a bottle of Coke to chill. In addition, Zendaya delivers another Emmy-worthy acting display, particularly in the opening, as Rue discovers her mom Leslie (Nika King), Elliot, and Jules have dumped her drug supply, owed to Laurie, and lashes out. No relationship is too sacred as Rue physically and mentally destroys her surroundings, and Zendaya is constantly switching between venomous anger, sadness, and hopelessness. Bridges are not only burned but eviscerated and you cannot help but look through the gaps between your fingers.
In attempting to outdo their previous efforts, Levinson, the crew, and the cast have somehow managed to craft a season of Euphoria with even more striking sights, sounds, and performances that turns your head and glue your eyes to the television. Despite flaws in the writing, it never stops drawing your attention with a hypnotic grasp that leaves you locked in for the next season.
You can find all episodes of Euphoria season two on HBO/HBO Max.